The Importance of Good Acceptance Criteria

Acceptance Criteria can be seen as a chore, a convoluted, verbose set of prose with the sole purpose of satisfying "the business". At best, its value is underestimated and it is often written as a vague list of requirements.

Given the right attention, Acceptance Criteria can be extremely valuable to all members of a Scrum team. Before it can be done correctly, we have to understand its value.

So what exactly is the point of Acceptance Criteria?

Purpose of Acceptance Criteria

To define boundaries

Acceptance criteria help development teams define the boundaries of a user story. In other words, acceptance criteria help you confirm when the application functions as desired.

To reach consensus

Having acceptance criteria synchronises the development team with the client. The team knows exactly what conditions should be met, just as the client knows exactly what to expect from the developed functionality.

To allow for accurate planning and estimation

Acceptance criteria scenarios allow for the correct division of user stories into tasks so user stories are correctly estimated and planned.

To serve as a basis for tests

Acceptance criteria provide a good baseline for writing tests. Test cases can break down Acceptance Criteria to go into more functional detail, and to cover edge cases.

Acceptance Criteria helps the team deliver quality

Acceptance Criteria is vital for delivering quality. If done correctly, it can simplify development and guide a comprehensive testing strategy. It is the glue that holds requirements together.

Acceptance Criteria is valuable to all stakeholders; Developers, QA, Product Owners, and the team as a whole. How it helps each stakeholder, however, varies according to their role.

Good Acceptance Criteria

How it benefits Developers

Good Acceptance Criteria gives developers clarity and allows them to break down their tasks into manageable pieces of functionality. With visibility of all possible scenarios, good Acceptance Criteria actually allows optimum design of the code. It enables developers to structure their code in a way that best meets the requirements. The code can be written around each scenario, ensuring each criteria is met in the simplest way possible.

The clarity given by good Acceptance Criteria keeps the business requirements at the forefront of the developer's mind, helping them to avoid getting bogged down in technical details which may not be conducive to the task.

How it benefits QA

Good Acceptance Criteria can guide QA in generating test cases and any required test data. With clear, simple scenarios, QA will have a solid base for test cases, and can then focus on expanding the Acceptance Criteria to cover edge cases.

Without clear, broken down Acceptance Criteria, it can be hard to work out test cases. If this happens, certain scenarios might be missed, and the important expectations of the job might be overlooked.

How it benefits the team

Good Acceptance Criteria helps get all the team on the same page. It aligns everyone with common goals, and helps them work together to build out the requirements. This collaboration is important and often overlooked.

Development and QA can come together at the start of a task in order to work out what needs to be tested. This allows Development to perform some degree of Test Driven Development. Even if it isn't possible to write automated tests before the code, the developer will at least have a good idea of what those tests are going to be before writing any code.

QA can guide this process, elaborating on what they will be testing, helping to set up test data, and informing the developer of possible edge cases to watch out for.

If the Acceptance Criteria is missing anything, the Product Owner can be questioned for more details before the work commences. Without clear Acceptance Criteria, there is no way of knowing if there are any missing details.

Good Acceptance Criteria can make a difference

With good Acceptance Criteria, the team is able to see, at a glance, what is required from a task. It provides a consensus for the whole team which aids both planning and delivery.

Good Acceptance Criteria helps developers come up with cleaner code. It makes testers' lives much easier. It helps the team come up with the best Automated Testing solutions, which is vital for Agile projects. It helps the team plan the best possible approach, and avoids stumbling into questions mid-development.

Don't underestimate the value of good Acceptance Criteria. It can increase productivity, collaboration, and quality.

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